SUN 21 - 4 - 2019
Mar 21, 2019
The Daily Star
Offline violence and online extremism
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine
Today, we cannot deny how progress in technology has brought people many things that they did not have in the past.
Today, online gaming is one of the most popular activities for youth. It plays a huge role in the modern entertainment industry, despite the fact the most popular form of it contains violent content. These games consume the leisure time of our children and teenagers.
We ask: Why is it essential to address what young people are seeing and playing? To what extent is the level of violence in video games shaping young people’s thoughts? Does it cause a person to act violently? Are Friday’s shooters in New Zealand and in southeast Brazil trying to imitate first-person shooter games?
Are acts of extreme violence influenced by violent games?
The violent content of video games has become a widely debated topic amongst the scientific community.
It became a global public concern especially after the extreme acts of violence that occurred last week in New Zealand and Brazil.
Fifty people were murdered in a devastating terror attack in two mosques in the city of Christchurch last Friday.
On the same day, another two gunmen opened fire at a school in southeast Brazil, murdering five students and injuring several others, before killing themselves.
Are they mimicking skills they learned on video games?
Are they transforming virtual scenarios into reality?
Many psychological scientists believe so, while others don’t.
This field is in the middle of a “paradigm shift” - new aspects about violent video games and aggression need to be better explored. Considerable research reveals that there is a connection between brutal video games, the development of angry feelings in children and the appearance of aggressive behavior.
On the other hand, it demonstrates a link to the decrease of pro-social behavior, compassion, and moral engagement. Video games “should not use human or other living targets as award points for killing, because this teaches children to associate pleasure and success with their ability to cause pain and suffering to others” the American Academy of Pediatrics noted in its guideline on Media Violence Report published in 2016.
The gaming culture was certainly present in both shootings that happened last Friday. The one in New Zealand was broadcasted live; the terrorist video looked exactly like a video game.
“The footage is grainy and has a video-game aesthetic” CNN reported. However, the video shared on social media showing images of the attacker opening fire on people as if they were targets in a video game was not the work of fiction - it was real.
Considering the current trends in technology, it is important to realize how radicalization works online, based on a proper understanding of the “roots of radicalization.” Does social media lead vulnerable people to resort to violence? What do we really know about the internet as a cause of radicalization, and the impact of these interactions?
The entire attack seemed to be designed to fit the social media age.
The 17-minute shooting video was still there on different social media platforms for hours after the attack, including a link to a 73-page manifesto - reflecting the power of social media in spreading such messages.
The manifesto mentions video games such as Fortnite, a popular online battle game. “Fortnite trained me to be a killer” a narrative said, probably in sarcasm so as to keep the video of the attack circulating on social media for a longer period of time.
Social media is a convenient method for violent extremists to utilize communication tools in order to spread hateful ideologies and violence. It is difficult for internet platforms to prevent that.
However, what can be done is to stop such content from spreading viral online. The European Commission Friday urged these companies “to remove the terrorist propaganda within an hour,” but it was extremely difficult, with a video that looks like a game.
The video was shared many times before it was removed.
Tom Chen, a professor in cybersecurity, says that “if the terrorist video looks like a video game, it would be very hard for an automated classifier to tell the difference between that terrorist video and a video game.”
Globally violent extremism is becoming a major challenge for many societies today.
Governments and tech companies are making responsive decisions based on assumptions about the causes and cures to violent attacks. For many years now, and in an attempt to block internet-driven hate and prevent violent extremism, companies including Google, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram have been working together as members of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism sharing sources of known terrorist content with one another in order to identify them and prevent them spreading.
These companies are investing in technology to spot and delete extremist posts from the internet.
Violent extremism has no boarders in today’s technology-driven world.
Understanding the virtual world young people are engaged in on a daily basis through social media and gaming is important. As parents we don’t want to reach a point saying “there is no need to worry about the content of video games that our children are playing.”
The research indicates that parents need to be involved by setting limits on children’s media use; it is how we can powerfully protect our children.
In the end, hate is hate, and terror is terror - no matter who it targets. People usually hate what they fear and fear what they do not understand.
My deepest condolences go to every survivor and every parent, wife, husband, brother, or sister who lost a loved one in Friday’s terror attacks.
Rubina Abu Zeinab-Chahine is executive director at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 20, 2019, on page 3.
The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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